Gentlemen, start your engines.
Now, turn them off.
You’re not only wasting gas at nearly eight bits a gallon, but you have been emasculated. Sorry you had to hear about it here. Perhaps telling you how this happened in anecdotal form would have eased the blow.
I have a friend, Austin. He drives an old pickup truck and carries a tool box in it, behind the seat. He could drive something else if he wanted to.
He can use the tools, in his tool box, to work on his truck. He can change a water pump, replace other parts, and basically fix everything under the hood. Austin says the Army taught him everything he needs to know about fixing machinery, and he likes it that way.
But that way is that way no longer.
The mechanics – top-flight people who have to put your car back together at B&B Collision after you’ve spun out playing “Don’t Hit the Telephone Pole” have news.
The only thing under the hood, today, is computer chips. As Wendy, who manages B&B with her brother Randy Booden and Nick Olsoyw, says, you might, if you’re lucky, still be able to change the oil and windshield washer fluid.
The engine in a week-old Subaru. Toss your tools, light up your laptop. Just what you want to do on the shoulder of I-696.
The V-8 engine in a gorgeous, candy-apple red Olds Cutlass. Tools work here.
But you are no longer qualified enough to work on anything else under the hood, unless you have about $20,000 in computer diagnostic equipment and know how to use it. That tool box is ballast. Over the side she goes.
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Nick says. “Take the Mercedes new 500 series. The computers help the seat belts and air bags work together.
“Let’s say you have to slam on the brakes. The computers measure how much pressure is on them and transmit that information to the seat belts, which determine how tight they need to get, and then to the air bags, and they tell the air bags if they have to deploy or not and if so, exactly how much they have to deploy, so it just doesn’t blow up in your face any more.”
Nick and Wendy also said the computers on high-end cars send messages to the side door airbags, telling them to or not to deploy, and if so, how much. “Cars are much safer today, but soon, very soon, you’ll just have to accept the fact that you cannot work on your own car any more.” B&B always sends employees to seminars to keep the company current. It’s literally changing the face of how B&B works.
“All the computers work as a team now,” Nick said, and he agreed with Wendy that yes, most of this stuff is on the high-end cars – now.
“But you’ll see it trickle down real shortly,” Wendy said. “Some Fords have the side airbags now. If they’ve got them, we’re not far away from everyone having them.”
“People really don’t know about all the new technology that’s come out lately with these new cars,” Nick said. As an example, he mentioned an airbag called a trim curtain, which comes out of the trim (duh) to protect your face, and side airbags wedged between you and the door. “They deploy so fast, and so hard, that they can keep the car that slammed into your side from breaking your ribs,” Nick said.
Now all this doesn’t come without a price.
Talk to the professional mechanics in B&B’s back shop, and they will just scratch their heads and wonder why a battery is under a back seat, and other design idiosyncrasies that make it a miracle to just find the part, much less run a diagnostic on it.
What are the hardest cars to work on? “Jags, BMWs – the European cars, just because of the way they have things positioned. They’re not body-man friend. They’re not collision friendly. When you want to go in and do something simple like change a battery, it’s almost always behind this other stuff that makes it impossible to work on.”
“They’re building these cars with the safety of the driver in mind, but not the caring of the vehicle,” Wendy said. “Ease of assembly is not their concern.”
Wendy was leaning on a week-old Subaru that had been smacked good on a test drive. The front end is a mess. Want to know what they dread most about fixing the Subaru?
“You have to take off the entire front assembly to change the bulb in the headlight,” Wendy said. “Now you know why so many people are driving around with one headlight.”
And then there’s more fun. For example, Nick said it’s necessary to disconnect the battery to work on some cars, for some reasons. When you reconnect it, it isn’t unusual at all for the radio not to work. “Customers come back and say nice job, what did you do to my radio? We didn’t do anything. It’s now necessary to call the manufacturer and get a code to punch in so the computer will recognize it — and then the radio will work.
What’s the best car they believe delivers everything the driver expects, is safe, rides nice, doesn’t rust, is durable and one of the best cars every made? “The Grand Am,” was the simultaneous answer from mechanics Brett, Carl and Tom.